The best writing is writing that transcends times and ages. This morning I found myself reading some brief thoughts from J.C. Ryle on the importance of self-examination, and though his words were written in the late nineteenth century, they are perfectly appropriate to our day. They offer an important challenge.
Let me counsel every true servant of Christ to “examine his own heart” frequently and carefully as to his state before God. This is a practice which is useful at all times: it is especially desirable at the present day. When the great plague of London was at its height people [noticed] the least symptoms that appeared on their bodies in a way that they never remarked them before. A spot here, or a spot there, which in time of health men thought nothing of, received close attention when the plague was decimating families, and striking down one after another! So it ought to be with ourselves, in the times in which we live. We ought to watch our hearts with double watchfulness. We ought to give more time to meditation, self-examination, and reflection. It is a hurrying, bustling age: if we would be kept from falling, we must make time for being frequently alone with God.
I was also struck by another of Ryle’s warnings, this one against being drawn in by false teachers.
Let me entreat every true hearted servant of Christ “not to be deceived by the superficial disguise” under which false doctrines often approach our souls in the present day. Beware of supposing that a teacher of religion is to be trusted, because although he holds some unsound views, he yet “teaches a great deal of truth.” Such a teacher is precisely the man to do you harm: Poison is always most dangerous when it is given in small doses and mixed with wholesome food. Beware of being taken in by the apparent earnestness of many of the teachers and upholders of false doctrine. Remember that zeal and sincerity and fervor are no proof whatever that a man is working for Christ, and ought to be believed.
Peter no doubt was in earnest when he told our Lord to spare Himself, and not go to the cross; yet our Lord said to him, “Get behind Me, Satan.” Saul no doubt was in earnest when he went to and fro persecuting Christians; yet he did it ignorantly, and his zeal was not according to knowledge. … It is an awful fact that, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). Of all the delusions prevalent in these latter days, there is none greater than the common notion that “if a man is in serious about his religion he must be a good man!” Beware of being carried away by this delusion; beware of being led astray by “serious-minded men!” Seriousness is in itself an excellent thing; but it must be seriousness in behalf of Christ and His whole truth, or else it is worth nothing at all. The things that are highly esteemed among men are often abominable in the sight of God.